At a special meeting held on Jan. 22, the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority appointed Chris Patella to replace Joseph Nichols as the executive director.
Patella, who currently serves as counsel to the City Council, will take up his new post as of Feb. 2 at a salary of $125,000 a year.
Nichols, who served for just over one year, will continue on as the city’s tax assessor, although he will also remain with the BLRA as part of a transition period to help Patella adjust to his new duties.
Some members of the public were concerned because Patella served as Mayor Mark Smith’s campaign manager during the special election in 2008. Members of the BLRA’s personnel committee said they had interviewed Patella extensively and believe he would fill the job, despite the obvious political nature of the appointment.
“The mayor has the right to select the person he wants for the job,” said Councilman Ted Connolly, one of the members of the committee. “Let’s face it; all appointments of this kind are political to some degree.”
Nichols said when Mayor Smith asked him to step down, he agreed.
Councilman Anthony Chiappone, who is a member of the BLRA, has had an uncomfortable relationship with Patella at the City Council meetings over the last few months, but said he would set past differences aside to vote in favor of Patella’s appointment as executive director.
“The mayor said he wanted someone close to him in the position.” – Anthony Chiappone
Chiappone supported Smith’s challenger, retired Municipal Judge Patrick Conaghan, in last November’s special election. During several council meetings prior to the election and afterwards, Patella and Chiappone have had disputes during meetings.
Chiappone said he and other BLRA commissioners met with Smith at various times over the last few weeks to discuss the change.
“The mayor said he wanted someone close to him in the position,” Chiappone said.
Several other commissioners said Nichols may be overextended by holding both positions as BLRA executive director and the city’s tax assessor.
As part of the change, Nichols is expected to resume his duties as legal counsel for the Bayonne Municipal Utilities Authority.
Nichols won unanimous praise from BLRA commissioners, who claimed he provided stability at a time when the BLRA faced lawsuits, a change of mayors, and a downturn in the real estate market.
Despite these issues, Nichols oversaw several key advances, including the construction of the first residential housing units on the former Military Ocean Terminal, the beginning of car import-export operations, and the requests for new proposals for developing other portions of MOTBY.
“Being executive director is a tough job,” said BLRA Chairman Howard Fitch. “I take my hat off to Joe Nichols. He helped with the transition. But with the new administration, the city asked for change. With each new executive director, the BLRA has moved onto another level. I expect Chris Patella will take us to a new plateau.”
“Director Joe Nichols and the [BLRA] have done a yeoman’s job in identifying critical issues and getting the agency pointed in the right direction,” said Mayor Mark Smith. “Now it is time for us to move forward with new leadership and a new focus on actually building things and developing new tax ratables and new jobs for our citizens.”
Smith said after years of entangling litigation, disputes with developers, and complex contracts, the BLRA needs to change direction.
“Chris Patella is well known to me as an excellent attorney and former municipal court judge,” Smith said. “He has a wealth of experience in contract negotiations and management that will serve the authority well as we move forward to untangle and settle pending litigation.”
Smith said Patella will be “a fierce advocate for Bayonne” and will work tirelessly to move projects from concept to completion as quickly as possible.
“I ask all Bayonne citizens to join with my administration as well as the BLRA in giving Chris [Patella] the support needed to succeed on my behalf,” he said.